As someone who lives in New York City and is blessed to have a car, and who also writes reviews of new cars, I’m in an enviable position. I can hop in a vehicle that’s basically a perfect contraption for social distancing, and head out in this pandemic world.
Americans are getting on board here too— car sales are perking back up, and experts are speculating that mass transit may have some ways to go before people feel safe commuting among others. The big point here being cars might be coming back, even after years of world governments and environmental groups pushing for greener options for our transportation needs.
So if we may be spending a lot more time in our vehicles, as a reviewer I have to ask, “Where would I really want to be?”
The new G-wagon
Now SUVs aren’t really my thing. I can appreciate their practicality, ruggedness, and go-anywhere nature when equipped with the right setup, but I’m more of a sports car person.
But there’s one SUV that I’ve always had a soft spot for, and that is Mercedes’s (DDAIF) uber truck - the G-wagon.
That Geländewagen came out in the 70s and had been basically the same vehicle through the 2018 model year (in fact I reviewed the G 65 Final Edition, which you can read here).
For 2019 the G-wagon was all new — and it really was all new, even if it’s hard to tell. Yes it still has that ladder frame and those three locking differentials, but the chassis is now stiffer, longer, and wider. By God, there’s now more space in the cabin (where legroom was a premium), and Mercedes has basically classed up the interior, putting it on par with the rest of the Mercedes range with the dual widescreen display, improved HVAC controls, sound system (Burmester equopment here), and overall materials throughout.
Does it lose some of the “charm” of the rough-around-the-edges but still exclusive old-school G-wagon? Yes it does, but remember turning the steering wheel for instance in the old G was like an extreme arm, shoulder and core workout. So the improvements, from a driveability and everyday liveability standpoint, are huge.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG G 63 here that we’re testing is powered by a hand-built, AMG variant of Mercedes’ twin-turbo V8, here pushing out a ludicrous 577hp and 627 lb-ft of torque at 2500 rpm. Even for a truck that weighs over 5,000 lbs, this engine will make your head snap back if you’re not careful with the accelerator.
And the sound emanating from the dual exhaust pipes shooting out underneath the running boards — am I in an SUV or a Dodge Viper? It’s loud, but sonorous and stirring; this is a Detroit muscle car via the autobahn here. The Germans may be perfecting what it means to have a car sound like pure American muscle.
But then you realize you’re sitting in this chariot, with gleaming materials and leather everywhere, and the G-Wagon’s big trademark - so much headroom you don’t know what do you with yourself. My test vehicle also came equipped with Mercedes’s ‘G manufaktur’ interior package that includes Nappa leather with diamond-quilt stitching, leather dashboard, special “multicontour” seats with massage, among other things. The platinum white leather with blue accents were also a nice touch.
So driving around town and on the highway in the G-wagon, it’s a lot of fun. It sounds great, it’s very fast (especially in sport mode or my configured ‘individual mode’), and you’re sitting high up in the lap of luxury. Where else would you want to be when you need to isolate yourself from the outside world, but you still want to head out and see that world?
Are there some drawbacks - yeah a few. Do you like piloting what is essentially a flying box with a tall center of gravity, and putting around local and city and traffic with a truck this big and lumbering? You’re also going to get around 14mpg combined (EPA estimates) for your troubles, and this G 63 variant will set you back a whopping $185,995, as tested here.
But people who buy the G 63, and it’s slightly more practical sibling the G 550, don’t really care about that lofty sticker price, or fuel economy for that matter. The cost of doing business here is high, but what you get is something no other SUV offers: the history of the do-anything, military-inspired G-wagon with the exclusivity, craftsmanship, performance, and overall bad-assery that Mercedes is now known for, updated to suit modern day, post-Covid-19 use, that is.